Consider this our ultimate guide on how to live off grid. With proper research and planning well in advance, you can move off grid, and it doesn’t have to be that expensive. It’s way cheaper than buying house and land in more populated parts, anyway.
No more utility bills to pay and your energy is clean and renewable. You can be as self-reliant and independent as you like. Three ticks here – good for you, your wallet, and the environment.
So, how exactly do you do it?
First, let’s define what off-grid means, so we’re on the same page.
Off Grid Living vs. Homesteading
The term ‘off-the-grid’ means different things to different people.
The simplest and most technically correct definition is:
Your property and home is not connected to any public utilities such as electricity, gas, water, sewerage and telephone lines.
In other words, there are no pipes and no wires connecting your home to ‘the Grid’. (The electricity grid, power grid etc.)
Other definitions for ‘Off-the-Grid’:
- Fully self-sufficient – you are disconnected from all public utilities and provide everything you need. Like power, water, sewerage and food that is grown or hunted.
- The Extreme version – you disappear into the wilderness, untraceable. You survive on your own, far from any other humans. (Yes, there are people who do this.)
- Half on grid / Half off grid – not totally off-the-grid. Maybe your house uses solar power when the sun shines, and uses electricity from the grid at night or when it’s cloudy.
Homesteading is not the same as off grid. Off grid refers to lack of connections to public utilities.
A homestead could be off-grid or on-grid. Homesteading typically refers to a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. For instance, growing your own food, and preserving and canning it. You might make your own clothes and other things you need.
How to Live Off Grid?
There are 3 main ways:
1. Modern Off-Grid
The most sophisticated option that is fully off-grid. Build/buy your entire off-grid system. Build an energy system for power. Figure out a system for your water supply. Build a waste disposal and sewerage system. Of course you also need a home or shelter, so build or buy that. You’ll also need some form of heating and cooling.
Food is up to you. You can grow your own or just go to the grocery store. If you’re a homesteader or want to be fully self-sufficient, you would grow your food.
You can have internet via cell or satellite. Remember, no cables connecting you to the grid!
2. Half On-Grid / Half Off-Grid
Basically, you have some of your utilities from your own power sources, and some coming from the grid. Maybe not all the time, but sometimes.
3. ‘Roughing it’
Truly off-grid and with no modern systems in place for utilities. Your home has no running water, septic system or electricity.
Modern off-grid is the most expensive to get started, the last is the cheapest. Decide what’s important to you before you pick one.
Before You Go Off Grid
Once you’ve decided which type of off grid living you want to pursue, you will need to do some planning. This is a must if you’ve decided to set up your own utility systems.
We will list all the things you need in just a second. But before that do these 2 things.
Figure Out Your Consumption
You will need to plan a lot before making the move off grid.
First, you need to design a system based on how much you or your family consumes.
This means, food, water and power consumption.
We will talk about power in the Power section. In this step, think about what appliances you need. Will you be using a TV, electric kettle, dishwasher, espresso machine. Washing machine? What about heating and cooling?
For off-grid life it’s best to cut down on energy usage. If you have the means (money and good weather for power generation) you could run all the appliances you want.
Add up the whole family’s power usage. Look at all your appliances and determine the watts and amps. Don’t forget other devices like laptops and phones.
This will give you an idea on the amount of power you use in 24 hours. You can then use this to design your system around.
Figure out how much food and water your family consumes. Try to calculate the amount of each type of nutrient, carbs, protein and so on. This will help in planning your food production system if you’re growing or raising your own food.
Also work out your water consumption. How much do you need to drink, to do the washing, for cooking, for the septic system?
Time to Save
We’re just about to get into the nitty-gritty, but you should start saving money for the off grid move as soon as possible.
Depending on your needs, your off grid system may cost a few thousand, or it may cost tens of thousands of dollars. If you don’t have the savings then it’s time to start putting some aside each month.
For the time being, be more frugal whether it may be buying less or going out less. See what you can do without. You can also sell your stuff. Facebook marketplace is the fastest way to get rid of things you don’t need.
Once you put in a bit every month, make sure not to touch it until you reach the amount of dollars you need to move off grid. Not only does this need to include money to build the off-grid system, you also need money for land and housing (coming up).
Now that you know the important preparation steps, let’s get into the list of what you need in detail.
The first is land. If you really want to go off grid sooner rather than later, buy a smaller piece and upgrade later. This will only work if you live in temporary or moveable accommodation like a tiny house on wheels or an RV.
If permanent housing is your priority and you want to start working the land and growing your own food, save up enough money to buy the correct size of land for you.
Important things to consider:
- Must have water – Hauling in water is tiresome and expensive, so having a water source on your property is best. Make sure it’s legal to access and use the water. Running water like rivers and streams are the nicest. But lakes, springs and water underground that can be pumped out via a well will also work. Check that the water sources are not contaminated.
- Road and legal access – Probably obvious, but ensure there is a road so you can access the property. It must also be legal access so you’re not illegally trespassing through surrounding land to get to your property!
- Local laws – Know the laws of the state you’re interested in. Off grid living must be legal and research property taxes. Know if it’s legal to do all the things you need, like setting up a septic system or using solar panels. Or even living off-grid for that matter.
- Local building codes – Research the building codes so you don’t encounter problems when you build your home. In some states only certain materials are permitted for building homes.
- Weather and climate – If you use solar or wind, pick a state or place with a healthy amount for power generation. Also consider natural disasters – floods, wildfires and tornadoes. The more you can avoid this the better!
- Soil and land quality – If growing crops and raising animals, it’s important for the soil to be habitable.
Land will be the most costly investment in the whole off-grid setup. $100,000 to $200,000 could get you the land and house. The off-grid system could be at least another $50,000 depending on what you choose.
But this is still a lot cheaper than a house and land in populated areas, not to mention bills. As an off-gridder you no longer have to pay utility bills!
Keep in mind there are cheaper options to go off grid sooner. Putting a downpayment on land or renting a mobile home is possible. You will still need income though. You can also find really cheap or even free land in some places.
For shelter, you can either live in a temporary home or build a permanent home. To move sooner, you can live in the temporary one while the permanent is being built.
For temporary housing, campervans, mobile homes, RVs and even tiny homes can be used. Alternatively, any of these could be your permanent home.
For other permanent housing, cabins, tiny houses, cob houses, wood-frame houses and yurts (big, round tents) are popular.
The next thing to do would be to either buy your home or build it. Some tiny homes can be bought prefabricated. Remember that it’s easier to power a smaller house. So off-grid homes tend to be on the smaller side compared to traditional houses.
Power generation provides electricity, gas and hot water to your property. Power storage goes hand in hand with it and should be set up if you can afford it.
There are 2 main ways and 2 additional ways to generate power, plus backup ways.
Solar power is by far the most popular method of power generation. Solar panels are getting cheaper as technology gets better.
There are also tax credits you get back for installing solar PV (photovoltaic) systems. The federal solar tax credit is 26% in 2020-2022, and 22% in 2023.
You can get an entire off-grid solar system for around $12,000, depending on your needs and usage. Remember earlier in the article when we said you should calculate your power usage? This comes in useful here. You can turn to this article to estimate the cost of an off-grid solar system.
It’s a very good idea to combine solar energy with wind. On days it’s not sunny, chances are it’s windy.
Find the average wind speed in your area and check that it meets the minimum requirements of 9 mph. You can also buy wind measuring kits for a few hundred dollars to get the most accurate reading.
Small roof mounted turbines start from a couple thousand dollars. Bigger pole-mounted ones can power entire homes for upwards of $30,000. Find out more about wind turbine costs for your usage here.
Hydropower is possible if you have running water on your property. It doesn’t have to be a big stream at all. There are microhydropower systems available that can power entire homes and farms. The best thing about this form of energy is that it’s the most reliable of all.
Check if your running water source falls from a high elevation to a low one. This would generate the most amount of energy and be very efficient.
Microhydro is also very cheap in comparison, costing around $4000 to $6000 to install a system.
The final form of renewable energy is using biogas. You can turn your food and waste into electricity using a biogas generator, which is powered by the gas the decomposing matter gives off.
Besides the biogas generator, there are other generators that use diesel, gas or propane. You should have generators handy for days the weather isn’t in your favor.
Power storage basically means batteries. You want to store the energy generated by your solar panels or wind turbines for days you can’t collect energy. You can rely on batteries at night or when it’s cloudy in the case of solar.
You might be able to rely on just batteries for a few days when the weather’s bad. If you still can’t source new energy, bring in the backup generators.
It’s worth noting that batteries are expensive, and their price isn’t decreasing as much as solar panels yet. You could get away with using solar panels or another method without storing the excess energy in batteries. But this means relying on generators.
Hopefully your piece of land has a water source. If not, you’ll have to haul it in from elsewhere.
There are 3 ways to harvest water from your property:
Collecting rainwater off the roof into barrels or drums is the cheapest option. You can set up a rain barrel system to capture and store the water running into your roof gutters. Any of these rainwater harvesting systems will also work.
When designing a home for rainwater collection, note that tile and metal roofs work best, while asphalt will poison the water. The factors affecting how much rainwater you can collect include the slant of the roof, its materials, surface area, and how much rainfall your area typically gets on average.
Then you’ll need a water filtration system to make the water safe to drink. A rainwater collection system starts from $2,500 and increases in price depending on the amount of barrels and complexity of the system.
Another popular option is to drill a well. A professionally-drilled well is safer and can be drilled deeper than a DIY approach. Deeper water tends to be less contaminated than shallow water.
Not all properties are suitable for wells so check this before purchasing your land if you intend for this to be your water source.
After the well is drilled, an electric pump (that can run off solar or your energy source) pumps water out of the well and directly into your house via underground pipes. This water is very clean with all the natural minerals and nutrients that filtered municipal city water doesn’t have.
The average cost for a professionally drilled well is $5,500.
Pump from Water Source
Technically, drilled wells are also pumping from a natural water source. But what about water from your streams, lakes, rivers, springs or ponds?
First, ensure you have water rights to take this water. Even if it’s on your property, it might be illegal to use it.
Then you simply need a pump, same as the well option. This can also be powered by electricity via wind, solar or other source.
Sewerage and Waste
Sewerage will need to be handled via either a septic system or composting toilet.
If you want flush toilets, use a septic system. Note that not all land will be able to accommodate a septic system. A perc test must be done to test the soil. If the soil drainage rate is not high enough, it won’t be safe to install on the property.
Waste is flushed from the home into the septic tank, the solids break down and the liquids drain into a leach field in the ground. The ground and micro-organisms filter the impurities. The cost of a septic system for off-grid use is around $5,000.
Composting toilets are a popular alternative. It removes the need for a septic system and turns human waste into compost that is safe to handle. If it’s legal to do so, it can even be used as fertilizer. Self-contained composting toilets start at $1400.
Household waste should be kept to a minimum when living off-grid. Paper products can be burned. Food scraps and other organic matter should be composted. Other items that won’t decay easily like plastic and metal should be taken to town or to a tip to be recycled.
A wood stove is the most practical option in most cases. It doesn’t draw extra energy from your power supply like an electric heater or air conditioning unit.
If you want a renewable source of firewood, buy land with trees. This way, you can plant a new tree each time you chop one down.
The more insulated your house is, the easier heating and cooling will be.
If air conditioning is a must for cooling, confine it to certain rooms in the house to cut on energy demand. Try to design your house to maximize cooling and heating efficiency.
Hot Water and Cooking
You need hot water for showering, cooking and cleaning. Heat water using either wood, a propane hot water heater or a solar hot water heater if your home is solar-powered.
For general cooking use either a wood or propane stove.
Living off-grid doesn’t mean you must produce your own food. Remember it’s primarily about your utilities or connections to the grid.
You can still go to grocery stores or markets to buy food.
But, many people choose to live off-grid to also be self-sufficient. This means either hunting, foraging, growing or raising your food.
First, you’ll need to know how much you or your family consumes. Refer to the preparation section to calculate it. Then you can plan out which vegetables to grow and what animals to raise or hunt.
Foraging is possible if you have food growing out in the wild on your property.
Winter can be problematic, so learning how to preserve and can food is important for times you can’t grow crops.
Going off the grid doesn’t mean you need to stay unconnected to the web. Pure off grid living does not include having telephone or optic fiber cables connected to the property. But you can still use cellular internet if you’re near enough to a tower.
From there, you can use your phone as a wifi hotspot so all your devices can access the internet.
If there is no cell tower nearby, satellite internet is available.
Or you can forgo the internet altogether if you prefer.
Because you’ll be out there alone, having backups for almost everything is a must. Backup generators and batteries, fire-starters, extra clothing and equipment. And a first aid kit.
Reliable clothing that lasts a long time is best. Have durable outdoor clothes that are weather resistant and won’t rip. As well as clothes and extra layers for all weather conditions.
And make sure your food supplies are never empty or in danger of being so. Have an emergency stockpile of everything.
Physical health is extremely important. You’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors if you provide your own food, so your health and fitness should be top notch.
Even if you’re sick it may be hard to take time off. Especially if you have animals. There will be emergencies when you urgently need to fix something on your homestead.
Get into good shape before you move.
Being off grid also means you might be living in a very remote location. You will be responsible for your own mental wellbeing so make sure those social needs are being met.
A family situation might not be as bad, but living alone far away from anyone can get lonely.
You can find off-grid-living communities online to connect with other people living a similar lifestyle.
Also consider nearby towns and communities and going to events. It doesn’t have to be often, but keeps loneliness at bay.
Having an emergency stash of money is important if you need to make repairs. Things that need professional work or parts that need replacing might not be cheap. If there’s something wrong with your septic system or your solar panel breaks, you need to spend to solve the issue.
The only instance you don’t need money is if you’re ‘roughing it’.
Even so, an accident or life or death situation means you might need money to get to a hospital. An emergency fund is a smart idea.
An off grid life means you shouldn’t have to worry about utility bills. After everything has been set up, this cost disappears.
If you don’t supply your own food you still need to buy it. Deep pools of savings could work, otherwise you need income.
We have written a list of small farm income ideas if you require income to survive. This includes everything from working remotely, to doing service-based work, to running an online business, to farming crops and animals for money.
Going off grid is very exciting, and the prospect of self-reliance is appealing. The most important thing to do from here is research and planning. The more in detail you can plan your off-grid system, food system and all the other things on this list, the easier it will be to transition to an off-grid lifestyle.
Try to do everything right the first time rather than wing it, as things can get costly fast.
What you should do next:
- Research – everything. Land, water, taxes, local laws, which state (or even country) to choose. Which off-grid energy options are best and how your entire will work on a very practical level. What you will eat, how will growing the vegetables work? Which ones in what seasons? What about animals for milk, eggs and meat? How many of which animal?
- Plan – Lay out all the details for the entire shift. Plan a timeline and all the costs involved in setting up everything. The land, house, possibly temporary house, water system, off grid energy system, food. And plan your finances.
- Learn skills you need – read books, take classes or online courses, watch YouTube. You need to learn about mechanics so you can fix and repair things around the home. Carpentry so you can fix more things. Electrical. Gardening and farming. Preserving and canning. First aid. Hunting, foraging, butchering. Cooking. Sewing and mending. You have to be a jack of all trades.